In an effort to hear more from education students and first-year teachers as they begin their educational careers, LEE & LOW launched the Teacher Voices series. In the first post of this series, Lindsay Panko, a recent graduate and first year special education sixth-grade teacher, shares her experience and discusses what is important in creating a supportive classroom community.
As a recent graduate and first year sixth-grade teacher, I was eager to get my classroom organized. Desks were arranged to support cooperative learning structures. Anchor charts were prepped and ready to be hung around the room. The classroom library was arranged by Lexile level and genre. I felt ready because my room was finally coming together, but I knew there was much more work that needed to be done.
Successful and enriched classrooms have a soul and spirit, and that is where creating a classroom community comes into play. Helping make the classroom a positive and safe space is one of the most critical components when students are developing skills like cooperation, communication, and positive interdependence.
Here are the top 3 ways you can begin to structure a community that can grow:
- Establish a behavior system. For me, this step was simple. My school uses a positive behavior incentive system (PBIS) called STARS. Through STARS, students and teachers are assessed in areas like Self-control (S), Trust (T), Accountability (A) and Respect (R). When all of these components are working together, a person can achieve the final “S”: success. When creating a behavior system, students NEED to see themselves as valuable to their classroom and school community. Self-management should also be emphasized so students understand that they are responsible for their actions, whether they lead to rewards or consequences.
- Have some fun and get to know one another. Once students understand the classroom rules and your expectations, have some fun getting to know your students and learning about their personal interests. This helps create positive relationships, makes them feel important, and can inform your instruction. Learning surveys and ice-breaker games are a quick and easy way to learn about what your students enjoy and how they learn best. For example, I created “Facebook” profile pages for my students to share their likes, dislikes, hobbies, and talents. You can even have students complete reflective or narrative writing samples to learn about each other and use as an assessment.
- Display! Display! Display! Students’ work should be shared, celebrated, and displayed. This allows students to have their voices heard and for their work to be appreciated. It also gives students an opportunity to see how hard work is meaningful and self-rewarding.
For example, my science students participated in a jigsaw activity during which each group researched a particular cell part and completed a brief project write up. We created a “gallery walk” where group work was displayed around the classroom. Students were given post-it notes and were instructed to write “glows” and “grows” for each group. “Glows” comments were positive, praising efforts, illustrations, and information while “grows” comments served as constructive criticisms to the groups. My students loved to admire each other’s efforts while reflecting on the feedback from their classmates.
The biggest takeaway is that after each student is valued as an individual, the structure of a classroom community is ready to be built. By building up from the individual to evolving as a team, we emphasized the importance of creating a classroom that would have shared power and responsibilities in order to maximize learning and enjoyment.
How do you create a community in your classroom?
Lindsay is a recent graduate from Mount Saint Mary College and is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Literacy Education. She currently holds New York State certifications for childhood (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6). Lindsay is a first year teacher in the Bronx working as a sixth grade special education teacher. She enjoys hiking throughout the Hudson Valley and baking during her free time.